This brief article, which turned up in an early post from Simon's polling, touches on some transmusical fundamentals. Because -- yes -- as the title of an old Smith & Mighty albums once had it, “Bass is Maternal.” Which may all seem a bit intuitive, a bit too physio-/psychoacoustics 101. Because pulse component aside, those low frequencies (espec when majorly boosted via car stereos or massive club PAs) are also deeply corporeal. They envelope and penetrate; making viscera quake, thick stone walls shake, and I don’t doubt it that it's also the ammo for recent sonic weaponry tech.
All of which also partly explains why -- yes -- there are such a things as deaf raves.
I was a little predisposed to bottom-heavy music. My hearing was always a little “hyper-acute” with high-frequencies. Maybe this had something to do with why I avoided whole genres of music that were too tilted to activity in the high-end registers, and more prone responding to tilted toward the opposite end of the spectrum.* Over the years I’ve found myself exposed to a number of varieties of “bass music” -- the sorts that could be considered as constituting some kind of (to borrow one of Simon’s terms) a ‘nuum. But aside from being bass-heavy, the peculiar thing about them is that they each seemed to be specific to certain places/cities/regions. If not being the product of some homegrown locals-only restlessness.
The following is more or less a "doof-doof" travelogue, playing out over the course of 25 years of happening to be in certain places at certain times...
I: 1980s: SOUTHERN/MIAMI BASS
Being a teen in the Deep South of the U.S. after hiphop broke was a dicey affair, especially if you were wanting to hear more and more of it. Throughout the first half of the 1980s, most hiphop from the upper east coast didn’t filter down south. I guess much of it proved too “urban” in its perspective to appeal to places that were at best only semi-urban. But electro-funk took in a big way early in the ‘80s, and had a lasting influence in the southeast. Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and “Tour de France” got a lot airplay on the non-white radio stations. Stuff like Twilight 22’s “Electric Kingdom” and Egyptian Lover went over massively in clubs and on boom boxes. Some of it brought “that boom” that was popular with a certain demographic. But not enough of it. As Dave Tomkins wrote in his “Primer to Miami Bass” piece in The Wire many years ago, the sub-Mason-Dixon response to much of what was coming from up North was that it involved too many guys in spacesuits and not enough boom.
So the locals started making it for themselves, tweaking the music to their own tastes. And sure, originally the southern booty-bass sound did hail from Miami and parts thereabouts at first; but within a few years it was also coming out of Atlanta and Houston and elsewhere in the SE region. I can remember numerous nights of driving around on a Friday or Saturday night, punching across the radio dial until I found a program where a DJ was playing a weekend party set. Track after track of punchy bass that had my ass careening in the driver’s seat while I steered down thinly-travelled roads in the darkness. At some point me figuring I was listening to the 181st (then 182nd, & etc.) remake of “Planet Rock”, which I was just fine with.**
It was so prevalent, that one could be excused for thinking that that was what most of the hip-hop universe consisted of. So many years later I was a bit thrown when James Lavelle put together a compilation of early tracks by DJ Magic Mike, and I read reviewers writing things to the effect of: “Arrrrgh!! Why am I only now hearing this stuff?” Considering that it was so inescapable to me once-upon-a, I couldn't help being befuddled by finding out that the music was such a marginal & provincial thing.
EARLY '90s, PT. 1 - BLEEP & BASS:
Still a victim of geography at this point. A lot of early U.K. House/early Rave music didn’t make it my part of the country. College kids were I was at the time were in the thrall of lots of northern European “industrial dance”drek. What little early rave fare trickled my way seemed alright enough, because I welcomed the energy. Functional for the dance floor, but didn’t strike me as the sort of stuff I’d want to much time with outside of a club setting. Until a number of tracks popped up that really caught my attention, seemed to be going in a direction that really appealed to me. More bass, and a distinctive use thereof. And, just generally, electronic music starting to move in the direction of kicking its made-upcsounds every which way around inside the listeners head. Years later I would learn that all of these records had something in common; that being that they hailed from city of Sheffield and its surrounding area, and could be filed under the category of the “Bleeps and Bass” subgenre.
EARLY '90s, PT. 2 - HIT THE BREAKS
Around the same time, I was moslty immersing myself in what's not looked backed on as "midskool" hiphop. I also stumbled across a few tunes that excited me tremendously, because they signaled the entry of breakbeats into the rave-culture mix. But at the tim had no idea about “‘ardkore” being a thing, let alone a very divisive, scene-splitting thing across the water. Only that it sounded like something I’d been eagerly waiting for.
But we need to talk about a couple of Atlanta joints. First off...
True, Rob Base & E-Z Rock had had a big big hit using the Lyn Collins "Think" break on their mega-hit "It Takes Two" in 1988; and over the next several years a number of tunes by high-profile acts milked further hits with the same break. But this Atlanta act pitch-shifted it into higher, more punchier bpm territory in a way that must've given a lot of people ideas. The title of the track is sampled from a 2 Live Crew number, and shortly thereafter Luther Campbell & crew in down in Miami responded to 2 Hyped Bros's jawn by doing their own version of the above, speeding it up even more and adding heaps of club-flattening bass.
And then there's this...
B-side wins again, by way of Mantronix-style editing being flipped into full warpspeed. This time via a reissue of Atlanta's Success-N-Effect debut track "Roll It Up N___a", this time with a instrumental remix that had been outsourced to Miami DJs Charlie Solana and Felix Sama, who gave in a Mantronix-in-warpdrive overhaul, using a chopped-up sample of the Winstons' "Amen" break for the benefit of maximum punchiness. If Frankie's Bones's account is to be taken as vaguely factual, then he heard it at the time and started playing it in NYC, and from the audience reaction decided it was worth flipping to Carl Cox, who then took it to overseas connections, where it helped inspire the beginnings of UK breakbeat 'ardkore. Perhaps partly true, or maybe total bullshit, but most likely doesn't matter (except for those that might be looking to get all chauvanistically "nativist" about such stuff).
And admittedly, here's where things get tricky. Because it's the point at which the the symbiosis of bass and kick drum comes in, which could argue consists slippage or cheating on my part. But since the 808 was what got this particular nuum rolling, it totally counts by my (and plenty others') reckoning.
Whatever the case, both the "dew doo" [sic] and "amen" breaks will factor heavily in second (more Northern) part of this thing. But for now, that's the end of Part I.
* This is not bullshit. My wife thought it was, until she became an audiologist and put me into a testing booth. Not to gloat or brag, but -- even after years of my abusing my eardrums night after night spent blasting music through headphones, or a fair number of nights spent in clubs with the shittiest acoustics -- in the end my claims were fully vindicated by the test results.
** NOT ENTIRELY TRUE. Lyrics were another matter. Here there are some problems. Not the least of which was the annoying habit of the vocals consistently being placed far too high/frontally in the mix.